A rich cultural oasis has become the new normal

Peter Hellyer takes stock of the great strides that have been made in the local culture scene

It's clear from the widely-diversified events of the UAE arts and culture scene that there is a real commitment at Government level to promoting this aspect of the country's development. WAM Photo
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When I first came to the UAE, the country could, justifiably, be described as a cultural backwater in global terms. The elements of the education system were still being laid down – there was no university until 1977. On the rare occasions when a big name in the global music scene arrived to play a concert, it was a topic of conversation even if one didn’t go to hear them. Cultural events? Few and far between.

Today, all of these have become the “new normal”. Pop stars? Ten a penny – and good ones too. Quality classical music performed by top artists and orchestras from overseas? No problem. Art and culture? Abu Dhabi Art and Art Dubai offer the connoisseur a wide range of attractions. In a year or two, we'll be able to visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. In the meantime, the displays and other activities at Manarat Al Saadiyat as well as in the thriving gallery and arts scene in Dubai and Sharjah provide a welcome taster for what lies ahead.

As the UAE gradually becomes a regional cultural hub, it's good to see that the efforts are being made to ensure that the benefits are being shared with the younger generation. The education department of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, for example, is working closely with educational authorities to allow schools to participate in their programmes. With the expense of bringing top artists or musicians to the capital, it makes sense to ensure that children as well as adults get a chance to interact with them. I know that the opportunities are much welcomed.

Such activities do not simply entertain children, they can inspire them too. Out of that inspiration, in the years ahead, will come more of our own artists and musicians, both Emiratis and expatriates.

It’s clear from the widely-diversified events of the UAE arts and culture scene that there is a real commitment at Government level to promoting this aspect of the country's development. Bringing world-class musicians and artists to the UAE is, and must remain, a fundamental part of this process.

The challenge that now lies ahead, of course, is how their talents can most effectively contribute to the growth of our own arts and culture scene.

Those more intimately involved in this aspect of society will have their own ideas on how best to achieve this, and certainly a variety of initiatives are now under way. Among them, the wide range of activities at Warehouse 421, the recently-opened arts and cultural hub created by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, should certainly have a major impact.

Another initiative of which I've recently become aware, focusing on classical music, also sounds extraordinarily promising. Pollen, a charitable venture that has been established to “sow the seeds of music”, seeks to provide a way in which some of the talented young musicians in the country can hone their talents by performing to audiences outside their schools or the occasional established competitions. This, in turn, will provide them with greater motivation, as well as crucial performance experience and systematic musical growth. Young, locally-nurtured talents like these will become the next generation of UAE musicians.

Over the last two years, Pollen has organised four concerts in small, private venues attracting dedicated audiences of music enthusiasts.

This weekend, in collaboration with the Tourism and Culture Authority and under the patronage of Minister of Culture Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Pollen goes public, with the first of three concerts by young local performers and professional musicians at Manarat Al Saadiyat. I wish them well.

There are those elsewhere in the region who hate our religious and cultural tolerance and diversity, who seek to destroy music, art, culture and heritage. Here, though, our enthusiastic embracing of them reflects our recognition of their importance, not just to us but to all humanity. Let us celebrate that too.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture